Florida basketball: It's not quite time to panic over Todd Golden, but the questions are growing louder
Florida lost to Mississippi State 69-68 in overtime Thursday at the SEC Tournament, failing to advance to Friday for the second consecutive season.
Florida fans are growing too accustomed to SEC Tournament heartbreak over the past 5 seasons, as Florida lost at the buzzer to eventual Final Four squad Auburn 5 seasons ago, fell to Texas A&M in overtime in Tampa last season, and managed to fumble away a tremendous comeback in the final seconds against Mississippi State on Thursday afternoon in Nashville.
Florida fans could deal with SEC Tournament heartbreak when they knew their name would be called on Selection Sunday, as was the case in all but 1 of the final 6 seasons under Mike White. What is harder is when all that is left is the NIT or a long offseason filled with “what ifs” and “what could have beens.” The past 2 years have been too filled with the latter — things too often reserved for programs in purgatory.
Florida has been to the mountaintop.
The last program to win back-to-back national championships and the only school to win a national title in football and basketball this century, the Gators know they can win at the highest level in basketball. They’ve done it. In fact, there’s a reasonable argument that the current rise of SEC basketball is directly traceable to Florida’s emergence as a national power. If that seems fanciful, don’t take my word for it, trust Greg Sankey. The SEC commissioner had this to say just 7 years ago, as he pushed SEC programs to schedule tougher and do more to compete in college hoops.
“We know as a league that we can be competitive. We have the passionate fans, rich recruiting bases, administrative support. We’ve also seen schools other than Kentucky do it, whether it was Arkansas when they joined the league or Florida. We’ve seen Florida sustain their success too, which demonstrated you don’t have to choose,” Sankey told assembled media in 2016.
Or ask Billy Donovan, who remembered this about winning in Gainesville when he returned to see Florida name the court after him in 2020.
“We never viewed football, or being a “football school,” as an impediment,” Donovan recalled in 2020. “It was useful. We recruited to it. We sent kids to football games on visits. We encouraged them to understand that it takes a special type of kid to succeed here, one who might not need or require the spotlight, but that they’ve have a huge platform and fan base and chance to succeed too, if they put in the work. We had great players who understood and embraced that opportunity.
“By the time we were done, we didn’t just have a tremendous home environment– we played in every possible hostile environment, the type that prepares kids best for the next level. At Kentucky, they are used to playing road games in sold out arenas, getting everyone’s best shot. We became the ‘other’ team that sold out every arena. We knew people were going to give us their best. That was something we embraced. The pursuit of excellence associated with that is a privilege.”
The pursuit of excellence as a program helped Florida win more games than any SEC program other than Kentucky since the advent of the 3-point shot, and the 3rd-most in the league (Kentucky, Tennessee) since the SEC integrated fully in 1973. Florida has also suffered the fewest losing seasons, along with Kentucky (1) of any SEC program this century. Florida is, as Bruce Pearl said earlier this year, “basketball royalty in the SEC.”
It’s Florida’s rich tradition over the past 30 years that makes a 16-16 campaign like this one tough to swallow. It was even harder to swallow Thursday. Florida had the game won, but blew an assignment on help defense to allow Tolu Smith, the one player Mississippi State had who could torment and take down Florida, win the game late. Smith finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds. Florida went home.
Helping off Smith here was an Indiana Jones “you chose…poorly!” Moment
— Florida Basketball Hour (@FloridaBBHour) March 9, 2023
After the loss, first-year head coach Todd Golden praised Florida’s competitiveness.
“It was a tough loss, but I’m proud of how our guys battled. Down 14 with 6:30 to play in the first half. Obviously that could have gone one of two ways, and we had that thing to where we had a 3-point lead with 13 minutes to play. We had two chances to win in regulation, and then in overtime to win the game. Came up a little short.”
The “came up a little short” argument is fine for a program like Florida in the semifinals, or even in a quarterfinal against a top seed. This, on the other hand, was a winnable 8-vs.-9 game against a desperate bubble team. These are the games Florida used to savor, squashing the bubble dreams of SEC brethren on their way to March Madness. Now, these are the games Florida can’t win.
The Gators went 4-16 this year in Quad 1 and 2 games, and 1-6 in games decided by 5 points or less. Florida fought Thursday, but for the bulk of this season, when Florida played a good team and was punched in the mouth, the Gators hit the mat. Before you write that off as unfair, consider this: Florida suffered 3 losses this year by 21 points or more. In 7 years under Mike White, Florida lost by that margin just twice.
This tumultuous campaign doesn’t mean it wasn’t time for White and Florida to part ways, but it does mean Golden, the latest young hotshot head coach hired by Florida, may and must improve. It also begs the question of why Florida seems hellbent on saving a dollar to chase the next diamond in the rough Billy Donovan-type hire when, thanks to the yeoman’s work of Lon Kruger and the court-signature work of Donovan, the Gators’ hoops program has won enough to have the pedigree to hire a proven commodity.
In the new SEC, a world where football is forever king but hoops also means dollars and winning makes it just mean more, you get what you pay for, and Florida’s approach seems as antiquated as the offense Golden and his staff ran all season, stumbling and bumbling their way to a 112th KenPom Offensive Efficiency rating, the 2nd-worst for the Gators in the KenPom era.
Golden may do better. In basketball circles, he’s respected for his analytical mind and the way he operates like a savvy CEO. But it’s hard to see a big bounce happening next season, even in the era of the transfer portal, which can be the great equalizer.
Florida will lose Colin Castleton, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a likely All-American, to the NBA. His injury was devastating, but the truth is Golden couldn’t win much with him anyway. The Gators were 13-12 and on the outside of the bubble when Castleton was injured.
Florida star freshman Riley Kugel could be enticed to return, thanks largely to NIL, but he’s streaking his way up draft boards thanks to a flashy February and March and could sign a two-way deal in the NBA even if he isn’t a first-round lock. Other players, like Kowacie Reeves and Alex Fudge, who are both immensely talented but inconsistent, and lockdown defender Niels Lane, who mysteriously didn’t play much for Golden this season, may find the transfer portal more enticing than another season in Gainesville. Will Richard is a nice piece, but there’s not much likely to return beyond that core group.
In the end, Florida just wasn’t consistent enough or good enough Thursday, which was the case all season, Castleton or no Castleton. The SEC isn’t going to get any weaker in basketball, and Florida, just 2 years removed from the league’s longest streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, appears to be falling behind.
If Golden can’t fix that quickly, Florida may need to find someone who will. The program battled too hard to hang 5 Final Four banners and become a SEC powerhouse to simply praise the way an 8th-place SEC team battled.
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It’s his first season and he lost his best player halfway through SEC play, pump the brakes!
It wasn’t halfway through SEC play. There were 6 games to play. They were 13-12. That’s in the piece. Golden is a sharp, charismatic guy. Year 2 starts now though, especially in the age of the portal.
Just shut up Neil. Check Billy Donovan’s record in his first year (and his last year). Losing seasons happen. To suggest that Golden may need to go after just one season (one in which he didn’t have a full recruiting runway is laughable). You are the problem with UF’s cultures…fools like you who act like the coach needs to be fired at the first sign of trouble. It’s not over zealous UF fans. It’s idiot writers like you.
Donovan helped Pitino bring UK out of the abyss and recruited a bulk of their team that won the 1996 title. He was also hired 27 years ago. UF had been to one final four and had only been to the big dance just five times in our history when Billy was hired.
Golden inherited a program where winning has been established and expected, Donovan built it. Totally different ends of the spectrum as far as hiring and expectations.
Golden inherited a program that was run into mediocrity by Mike White who got slightly worse each season…don’t rewrite history bud. Did UF make the dance in 2022? No it didn’t so this whole “Golden inherited a program where winning has been established” is just not true. Golden inherited a very thin roster with one outstanding player and a bunch of transfers which he had to coble together without much time via the portal because White left abruptly for UGA after the 2022 season. Billy D’s last good team was a decade ago man. Get real.
Transition years are rough. Just ask Football Billy.
That said, just like Napier in football, Golden better show significant improvement in year 2, or the heat will be turned way up in year 3.
Agreed on both accounts. If year 2 is stale and doesn’t show improvement, then CBN and Golden will be on the hotseat entering year 3. Given how low they both performed in 2023 (i.e. around the.500 mark), its a fairly low hurdle to show improvement. Another .500 mark for either coach means hotseat. Stricklan will not survive if these coaches do not.
At no point in the piece did I suggest Golden needs to go. Thanks, GatorinBama.
Neil, the tone of the article suggests what Bama is posting.
Neil, it does sound like you’re suggesting that Golden won’t succeed and will end up being replaced. For a moment I thought this was a Matt Hayes article. :)
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Well thank goodness you are here to breathe some sense into these rabid G8R fans, jane. How’s ted?
Should LSU be concerned with their basketball hire after one season? Even our writers seem to have zero patience anymore.
A case can be made that there are GatorBots posting here and on Gator Football Stories, and those GatorBots will always support the Gator Head Coaches no bad things are.
Plus, if you are any other team in the SEC, aren’t you rooting for the Gator Golden Napier Era to be eternal?
No matter how bad things are, GatorBots will accept more losses and scars.
It’s called loyalty, bud, in any kind of weather.
Opinions are fine, I have some questions about CBN too, but don’t ever make the mistake that our wanting to give him a chance is synonymous with being a “Bot”. If he makes ice cream out of horse turds in the end or if he steps all over his own poncho liner – none of us have either the authority to give him a pay raise or fire him. It is what it is, but if any of us know the exact outcome for the next two years, I’d sure like to hear it.
Well put Doc.
Swampy, same can be said about naysayers, they could be bots trying to get people commenting.
Golden better hitch his wagon to Kugel. Kugel is a tremendous talent. This year seemed very strange due to the unexpected losses to lesser talented programs and then take the Vols down and look like serious contenders.
Golden seems like a good recruiter and he better sign or bring in a big man to replace Castleton. If he does that and combined with Kugel we can have a solid team next season. Golden’s first year was meh but it is just his first year. We will see what he’s capable of next season.
Give it a rest SDS. I guess Neil’s suggestion is to fire Golden now so we can start over and have another sub .500 season next year. That way he can write the same tired article next year trying to develop narrative to get another coach fired. Hey Neil…good thing you and your SDS buddies aren’t AD’s. You’d fire the coach after every loss. What a fool.
It’s wild how you misinterpreted this article based on the headline.
Your words man:
“Golden may do better. In basketball circles, he’s respected for his analytical mind and the way he operates like a savvy CEO. But it’s hard to see a big bounce happening next season, even in the era of the transfer portal, which can be the great equalizer.”
“If Golden can’t fix that quickly, Florida may need to find someone who will.”
Translated with brevity: It’s doubtful Golden can turn things around next season, and UF needs to find someone who can quickly.
If you want to view that as an endorsement go ahead. SMH.
I’m not even a UF fan (Auburn/Bruce Pearl fan) and feel you set a “may need to fire him tone”). Perhaps check your ego and listen to your audience?
PatchAdam, are you a psychiatrist? Just like the one in the movie? :)
Or you are just an ordinary doctor?
We had qualified people begging for the job and the smiling dork from Starkville goes out like he did with football and tries to land the next young hot coach.
Golden’s best finish in the WCC was 3rd. Enough said. This guy could barely have any success on the mid-major level, he sure won’t have it in the SEC.
And you wanted Billy D canned in 1998 after a subpar first season. You were probably saying things like “we got that flashy Jason Williams but its not sound basketball. We’ll never win with this kid coach Billy Donovan”. Don’t lie and act differently. You are the Ricky Bobby of UF Fans. If you ain’t first your last is your mentality and it gets old. Give Golden a couple of years before you throw dirt on him.
Nope, not at all, the expectations were way lower, we were far from top shelf in the SEC at that point.
We at least made the NIT in year two with Billy, maybe Golden can get there next year.
Maybe…my point is you want him gone now and already believe he won’t improve next year.
The Gators went to a Final Four in 1994 (less than five years before Donovan started). The last Gators Final Four was in 2014 (8 years before Golden started). Mike White would have had the same garbage season we had this year with Golden. I don’t see where your “expectations” come from. Billy D left a long time ago.
What evidence suggests to you Golden should have been hired in the first place? 2 years at Auburn before they were any good? A few middling years at SF with one tourney berth and best finish in the WCC was 4th? Comparing Golden to Billy D is a joke. Billy coached under Pitino at UK and was there for the 93 Final Four run. He’s one of FOUR coaches to have played in the final four and coached a team to a natty. There is zero in Golden’s resume that suggests he is the next Billy D or that he even has the pedigree to build a top program. Looking at the current recruiting class, which he fully owns, what makes you optimistic he has a chance of righting this ship?
To respond to each of your points:
I never said Golden should have been hired to begin with.
I’m not suggesting Golden can hold a candle to Billy D. I’m just suggesting to Phil that he probably threw shade at Billy D after a first year losing season just like he is doing now with Golden.
Billy D is gone now. You are living in the past. If you feel canning Golden now would be the best path forward for our program, good luck with that strategy. I feel like the guy deserves the chance to succeed or not. Canning him based on your forecasts is silly.
We have a premature speculation. Cleanup on isle 5.
Same as on the football side, where Napier suffered through another losing season while attempting to clean up the recruiting mess left behind by his predecessor.
That said, year 2 must show improvement and in college basketball, that means getting invited to the big dance.
How dare you introduce logic to this conversation? (:
White’s first three years at UF were successful due to Dusty May – after May left so did the offense – look at what May has done at FAU – he uses the new basketball style, fast basketball.
Regardless of a coach’s first year record (good or bad), the question is whether he displays any brilliance – Billy D brought Billy ball. Last spring when he was hired, Golden laid out his philosophy, but it seems he didn’t have the recruits to play it this year.
Golden inherited a mess of a basketball program and roster thanks to Mike White. Golden is an enthusiastic and good young coach, and he deserves the proper amount time to build his program with his players without unjustified panic (or over reactive articles like this one). I would not be displeased if Kugel and Richard were the only current roster returnees to next season’s roster.
Where is your evidence Golden has the skill and knowledge to make UF into a winner? A couple years under Pearl? A few middling years as the HC at SF with their best conference finish was 4th? One tourney berth in his entire coaching career? Hope is not a strategy.
And neither is despair.
Hey, I hear Pitino is looking for a new gig. Maybe, he’ll be up to the challenge of rebuilding Billy’s dynasty in Hogtown. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? ;)
What I don’t really get is why people seem so much more willing to cut an equally green and unproven Napier so much more slack than Golden.
They seem to have put up roughly similar levels of success in their first seasons with roughly similar levels of inherited talent but questioning one is justifiable while we’re supposed to cut Sun Belt Billy a break?
Nobody is “supposed to”, these are simply opinions with some but not all exceeding the threshold for absurdity based on individual angst.
Have you been asleep for 6 months? This site has had one hit piece after another aimed at Napier.
It’s ok to question certain things …but many have already concluded that both were bad hires… after one season. While both have inherited a mess to clean up.
Perhaps I have been, but I’ll nonetheless take your snide comment as an enjoinder to see my primary care physician stat and get checked out for narcolepsy.
Saying this with all due respect since I often agree with your comments and your body of posts is generally consistent. That said, the duality you set above does not rise above premature for the conclusion you apparently draw, based on thin sampling of either’s work thus far. Put differently, at best to anyone who can read it’s a BGHO (Blinding Glimpse of the Highly Obvious), and at the worst unfair based on very little evidence at this point.
We both agree that opinions are fine, presumably if logical in the first place. As for myself, I’m taking the slower road to wait and see.
Doc, I can’t say for sure, but I believe that Upstate was referring to the Socratic poster above your comment.
Either way, I do agree that both coaches need more time.
By gum by golly I think you’re right. Dagnabbit. My apologies!
Thanks for the laugh man. I haven’t seem you get so worked up in a while. And all for nothing. But it’s OK, leeland once told me nobody’s perfect. Now go back to sleep and calm down
Golden/Napier will both get 3 Years, doesn’t mean Gator FANS can’t complain about them here
(The Revisionist History Golden/Napier Gang has to keep re-crafting M.White/Mullen to be worse and worse with each passing day)
It’s not so much the losing of Year 1, it’s the apparent lack of optimism for Year 2 in the Golden/Napier Era
The Stickbug must recruit better players.
Looks like Florida’s AD is whiffing on both Golden & Napier.
Looks like you’re just another premature prognosticator. I saw an ad for a blue pill that may help you
Geaux should read the box label before he takes that blue pill, since effects that last more than 4 hours are cause to see his primary care physician ASAP.
Don’t worry too much though Geaux, I had one that lasted 4 years. Of course, back then we just called it “High School”.
Gators Football can’t stop the run on Defense, Gators Basketball can’t rebound and get frontcourt tough, maybe UF is a Girl’s School now, just stand there and look pretty, you can’t show heart and get gritty. Go Gymnastics, Volleyball, and Softball! (And maybe some Baseball Too)
Good Plan for Next Gators Basketball Season: Have more than 1 Rebounder on the court at one time
7 new players coming in next season and only 2 recruits so far? Looks like another March 2024 NIT again with a roster of short-term transfers from Mid-Majors. And Kugel might leave too?
3 seasons of on-the-job training with Golden and Napier, then maybe hire someone who has been a proven winner in the past and not just another trendy up-and-comer who struggles to win games?
Go Gators! Win the 2023 NIT! 5-0! 3-0 gets you to the NIT Semifinals in the Las Vegas area of Paradise, Nevada
Gators should get at least 1 2023 NIT Home Game, then be Road Warriors
By any chance, you kin to gagagatorunderthelake? (:
Dear docgator, I don’t think you are a Gator Mediocrity Apologists
Doc I was thinking the same thing :)
Excellent article. It’s a shame to see the program that Donovan built to an elite level regress to being what it was before his hire. Golden hasn’t shown the in-game coaching decisions to make me feel confident he’s the guy to make Florida elite again. If fans are content with making the NCAA Tournament once every 5 years or so, Golden may be the right choice. He’s certainly no Donovan.